The caw of a crow and the sound of a breeze rustling the mimosa branches – that’s about all you’re likely to hear while relaxing on the screened porch of Wilma’s Cottage. And that’s the point. For those who stay at the Sandy Island guesthouse, whether it’s just for the day or longer, solitude is the main draw. The disconnect from the daily hustle of a busy life begins when you board a motor boat at Sandy Island landing near Brookgreen Gardens. Laura Herriott, whose grandparents spent their married life in the folksy bungalow, is captain of the humble vessel that zips you through the waters of the Waccamaw River to blissful, coveted isolation.
The five-minute ride delivers you to the piney shores of Sandy Island, a 9,000-acre wildlife preserve where swallowtail kites, blue herons, screech owls, wild boars, endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers and even an occasional bear can be spotted. It’s also home to a small Gullah Geechee community, where most everyone is directly descended from African slaves who worked the rice plantations that once burgeoned there.
Herriott is one such islander. Her efforts to preserve her culture led to offering up her family’s abode as a bed-and-breakfast option unlike any in the Grand Strand area. Blending the first names of her grandparents – William and Mary Collins – she dubbed it “Wilma’s Cottage” and opened the doors to visitors interested in an authentic Sandy Island experience.
If you’re looking for luxury digs and an ocean view, best stay on the mainland. Accessed via Herriott’s rough-and-tumble Jeep, Wilma’s Cottage is a rustic getaway, tucked away on a sandy lane amid live oaks, longleaf pines and a neighboring bungalow or two. The natural landscape of the yard fits right in with the motif of this house – a homey preservation of a simple, cozy life. The cottage’s rooms – five bedrooms (each named for a family member), two sitting rooms with television, two bathrooms, kitchen and dining area – are still outfitted with furnishings original to the house.
“Everything is pretty much the same as it was when my grandparents lived here,” said Herriott. “This chair, these tables, the beds, the dishes – this is how they lived. We did put in another bathroom and did a fundraiser to get the new roof. There was a lot of love in this old house and it’s something you can feel when you walk in.”
The atmosphere is certainly 1950s and ‘60s, but that’s not to say you’ll feel completely confined to the past. There’s cellphone and internet service for those who want to keep a line open to the present. Enjoy the natural wonders of the area with long walks on nature trails, fishing and bird-watching. Because there’s only one small store on the island with limited provisions, it’s advisable to bring your own groceries and the other supplies you might need. A hot country-style breakfast is included with your stay. For an additional fee, Herriott will cook up lunch and dinner for guests. Note: She’s famous for her red rice and fried chicken, so you’ll want to spring for at least one of the tasty home-cooked meals.